Rotten oranges and customer empathy

Ever arrived at the checkout of your supermarket to notice a problem with a product you picked up from the shelf? A damaged pack, rotten fruit/vegetable in a bag, an expired date, etc.

It just happened I had a similar problem with some rotten oranges in a bag in two different stores in the last few months that nicely illustrates a hit and miss of customer empathy...


When I noticed the bag had rotten oranges in it, I first felt angry with myself for not taking the time to check the bag before putting it in my trolley (typical feminine reaction) but after that irritation towards the store for not checking the quality and freshness of the fruits/vegetables they sell.

Looking at it from a business angle, this is the typical situation that can damage your store reputation with customers and wipe out all the image benefits of any freshness communication campaign your marketing department has just put together.

What made the difference is the reaction of the cashiers...

At Store A, the cashier  directly reacted with a "I am sorry",  then stated that this was not up to the standards of the store and called the fruit section head to let him know and ask him to bring a good bag to the checkout while he was continuing with the rest of my trolley. He put both bags in my trolley only charging me for the one in which all the oranges were good “because I could still use the good ones while they would not be able to sell the bag anyway”.

At Store B, the cashier just asked me in a slightly impatient tone: “Do you want to leave it with me, go and get another one or do you still want to buy this bag?”

Guess which one is the hit and which one is the miss…

I left Store A feeling good and happy - all the anger gone. I also felt that the retailer was really serious about freshness and that the rotten orange was an incident that happens to the best of us. I felt valued as a customer... and I mentioned the incidents to friends, in training and in my blog as a positive sign that this store chain was particularly serious about quality, freshness and customer service.

I left Store B still angry at the cashier for not caring, at the store for selling rotten produce (and with myself for getting upset with such details). I tend to look at their freshness communication campaign with a lot of skepticism and would definitely give them a lower score on freshness than Store A.

And I do most of my shopping (not just Oranges...) at Store A!

Key points to take away

    • The issue is not the bad experience, it is how you deal with it – Even the best companies in the world cannot avoid a quality issue, but how you deal with it can make a huge difference.
    • Empathy makes the difference – the cashier of store A demonstrated empathy for the customer by recognizing my anger and apologizing, while store B employee ignored the emotion with the result of making me twice as angry.
    • Training and empowering employees is key – I don’t believe there was a written rule for the employee of store A to do what he did… but I am sure that he personally felt responsible for the customer satisfaction and was trained and empowered to do what was right… which certainly made him more motivated to come to work everyday!

Are your employees trained to demonstrate customer empathy and empowered to do what is right for the customer?


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Valérie Busquin

Phone: +32 477 330 064